Title: A Fair Distance:Ball and Chain. Chapter Eight
Type: Slash Jim/Blair The Sentinel
Warnings:None for this chapter but Click to see the warnings for the series
Beta’ed by the fabulous and talented t_verano.
Picture by slipperieslope
Summary for A Fair Distance: A year after Blair left Jim, and Cascade, they meet again in a small Tennessee town where Blair's been arrested and is being held for questioning at the request of the Cascade PD.
A Fair Distance can be found at my LJ here or at 852 Prospect here, if you prefer one text file(but it only has the first arc A Fair Distance: Running on Empty, and not Ball and Chain or at Artifact Storage Room 3 here, to read chapter by chapter, including other stories in the series.
Ball and Chain is the second arc of A Fair Distance
Ball and Chain. Chapter Eight
“I don’t know, Chief. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.” Blair had run another fever around 3:30 in the morning, after all. I walked over behind him and felt his forehead again, just to make sure his temperature was normal.
“Jeez, Jim. You did that five minutes ago, remember?” He'd been looking at the lake again through the window, but turned around to face me.
I’d scanned the beach area when he’d asked to have some time to himself down there, and we were alone here. The people in the other cabin down the road had left earlier. I thought it would be safe.
But… I didn’t want him making himself sicker, either.
I eyed him up and down, and he was too pale and tired-looking for my peace of mind. Still, the less Blair thought of himself as my prisoner, the better for getting him to agree to be my lover.
“Come on, man. I won’t be out long, and I really need to do some processing. I’m too restless to try meditation. And anyway, we’d have to leave before I really got myself settled.” Blair looked up at me and solemnly held two fingers up together. “I promise I won’t run away while I’m walking on the beach.” He grinned mischievously, and added, “Or while you pack up the truck or when your back is turned or anything. This offer good until… we’re back on the highway, okay?”
I grumbled, “It’s not that. I just don’t want you wearing yourself out and making yourself feel worse. And it’s three fingers for the Scout Oath, Junior.”
“I know. I did learn that much before Naomi found out I was secretly attending Cub Scout meetings and made me quit. But since I don’t agree with the Scouts’ position on gay leaders and gay Scouts, I don’t want to use their symbols. So, the Blair Sandburg promise uses two fingers.”
He grinned cheekily at me, and, of course, I caved. “Dress warmly. It’ll be colder down by the lake. Damn, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish you still had your Fargo hat.”
Blair leaned closer to me and stood on his tiptoes. Pulling my head down, he planted a big juicy kiss on my forehead. He stepped back and looked ruefully at me. “Somebody shopping at Goodwill got a real bargain with my hat.” He batted his eyes at me, exaggerating his flirting, and coyly said, “Christmas is coming.” I groaned and turned him around and gave him a pat on the butt, to send him on his walk.
“Yell if you need any help.” And I walked over to the kitchen area and started cleaning things up.
Blair left; I decided that if he wasn’t back in thirty minutes, I’d walk down myself and fetch him in. Meanwhile I listened for any cars or human movements, just in case I was wrong about it being safe. With Blair in so much bodily contact with me, my default setting for being grounded against zones was normal again. I’d held him last night in bed, pulled tightly against me, and whispered a litany of love into his ear, smelling contentment and a low level of desire at times rising from his warm skin. Along with exhaustion.
This morning, I wasn’t worried that he was trying to trick me. He hadn’t been lying to me, according to his body, and Blair’s promises were solid. He was still sick, though. And I wondered if he was reaching the point where he’d become a pain-in-the-butt patient. I knew the signs. We both usually would do too much when recovering and then would regret it. Funny how we never seemed to learn from it… I might have to sit on Blair if he got too frisky before he really recovered.
“Here, Chief.” I handed him the atlas, then turned the Ranger back towards the highway. “Put your truck-driving days to good use and pick us out a route. Just remember which is your left and which is your right.” Blair rolled his eyes; teasing him about getting lost was familiar territory. “Let’s try and get about four hundred miles in today. I need to check in with Findley, and he’ll want to know where we plan on staying tonight.”
Blair muttered to himself as he calculated time and distance while I got us back on the highway. He’d returned from his ‘processing’ walking slowly, and had collapsed on the couch while I’d packed and loaded the truck. I figured he’d conk out fairly soon when we started driving. I was curious about what was going on in that curly head, but I wasn’t going to push him. Not like the way I’d done last night.
Blair glanced up from scrutinizing the atlas. “Tell Dave to look for places around St. Cloud, Minnesota. And we need to get on Interstate 39/90, then onto Interstate 94. We can take 94, and then 90 all the way to Washington.” He scrubbed his face with his hands and then smiled ruefully. “You’re going easy on me, aren’t you? When I was driving a truck, I’d be behind the wheel for ten hours at a time. We should get to St. Cloud around six hours from now.” He yawned, and I patted the space next to me.
“Scoot over here, Chief. You do realize that mono is going to ambush you for maybe a couple of months, right? If you’re tired, you should sleep.” I hadn’t put the handcuffs back on him and he hadn’t said anything about it. Till we had to stop, I thought it was safe enough; he wasn’t going to be jumping out of the truck.
Blair obliged me and made himself comfortable with the blanket and leaning against my shoulder. He managed to stay awake until we were on the interstate, and then let himself sleep.
He still hadn’t said what the heck he’d been processing.
While he was asleep, once I was past Madison, I called Findley. Findley didn’t sound any too awake either, he must’ve been getting ready to sleep after coming off the night shift. He said Scumbag and Shit-head hadn’t named any names yet and had denied being hired to kill Blair.
At least they weren’t going anywhere for now; they both had been refused bail until they went back to court on their other charges. Findley promised to keep sweating them and to relay a message to Simon for me. He apologized for yawning on the phone and said he would see to arranging another cabin for the night. I ended the call and switched the phone to vibrate – I didn’t want to disturb Blair, he needed to rest and regain some energy -- and soon afterwards I exited onto Interstate 94.
Thirty minutes later, Findley had arranged our next place for the night. He asked to talk to Blair but understood when I said he was sleeping and mentioned he’d been wondering if Blair had agreed yet to protective custody. He muttered ’stubborn little cuss’ when I said he hadn’t. I explained we were trying to work things out and that Blair’d been pretty sick the last couple of days, but I thought he was starting to feel a little better today. I arranged to talk with Findley again tomorrow and put the phone in my shirt pocket.
It was pleasant driving along the rolling green and brown hills, watching cows graze under the deep blue of the sky, and I enjoyed the weight of my guide leaning against me. I took deep breaths, occasionally, of his scent. I’d missed him on such a fundamental physical level; I didn’t ever want to lose him again.
Blair slept for several hours, then did his usual slow ascent back into consciousness. It never failed to amuse me to watch him visibly gain IQ points as he became more alert. He stretched and wiggled around, till he was back with me again.
“How’s your throat?” I wanted a status report – an honest one. He hadn’t run a fever since very early this morning; maybe he was starting to feel better.
Blair swallowed and thought about it before he answered. “It’s still pretty sore, but not as bad as it was a couple of days ago.”
He leaned against me and closed his eyes again, but he didn’t go back to sleep. In fact, he wasn’t that relaxed at all. But I took his closed eyes as a signal that he was still processing whatever problem he’d been thinking about this morning, and I didn’t disturb him.
Later, I exited off the interstate to head for a gas station and to get us something to eat. The moment of truth was coming up for Blair; he was going to have to promise me he wouldn’t try and get away or I would have to handcuff him. It felt like he was mellowing about the idea, but I needed to hear the words.
“Chief…” And I nudged him with my shoulder. He sat up as I pulled into a Shell station.
“Blair, why don’t you just do what you did this morning. Just promise me you won’t try and leave while we fuel the truck and ourselves back up.”
Blair bit his lip as I turned off the engine at pump six. He looked indecisive, so I reached over and grasped his hand.
“I’d like the chance to hold your hand without being handcuffed to you, Chief.”
He muttered, “Yeah, try and sway me with sweet talk, Ellison.”
“Is it working?”
Blair used his free hand to make his promise symbol. “O-kay. I promise not to escape until we leave this town. Although, you know, I think you’re giving me more credit for being Harry Houdini than I deserve. So, can I actually walk into the bathroom by myself?”
“Didn’t think so. You’re still checking for hired guns, aren’t you?”
“I won’t take your safety lightly, Blair. But I think it highly unlikely that anybody has tracked us. When we get to Cascade, Simon will start trying to trace the leak. We’ll set a trap and see who passes along the information about where we’ve supposedly got you stashed.”
“Why wait till then? Why not start trying to narrow it down now? Does Simon suspect which department supplied the tip-off about me being in Sweetwater, or -- God – does he think it came from Major Crimes?”
I let go of his hand and ruffled his hair. “Ah, Chief. You would have made a hell of a detective; the Chief of Police was a dick for kicking you out. Simon’s going to call us sometime today. We can hash it out with him then.”
I pumped and paid for the gas – and this time didn’t have to handcuff him to the steering wheel – and then headed out to find a Chinese place to eat. Blair thought he could handle the noodles and vegetable dishes better than a hamburger joint. Although he may have just been trying to save my arteries.
All through lunch he’d been alternating between chattering about some of the places he’d been this past year and being silent and looking worried. ‘Processing’ still, I thought. And I wondered if he’d let me in on what was making the wheels go round in his head. He might not. I’d promised him I wouldn’t push him to tell me his secrets. But I hoped he would talk to me.
I surprised him when we left the restaurant by taking his hand. But he covered it well and kept on telling me how he’d learned to cook Chinese food when he worked as kitchen help in a friend’s father’s restaurant. When we got to the truck, I pulled him into a hug, and kissed his forehead before turning him loose, and smiled at the look on his face. Sandburg with a shy look on his face – I wished I had my camera with me.
We’d been driving for about an hour when Simon called, and I updated him on Blair’s health and where we were. I explained that Blair was still against being placed in protective custody but that he was being more cooperative. Then I told him Blair wanted to talk to him about the leak. I handed the phone over to Blair, who reluctantly took it. Other than me, I think Simon was the first friend from Cascade who Blair had talked to in over a year. He looked uncomfortable and guilty. Simon wasn’t yelling at him, exactly, but he was making his displeasure at being out of contact with Blair known. After that, he invited Blair to go fishing with him when the case was over. And then told him to tell Ellison he was invited too, and grumbled at me to stop eavesdropping on their conversation.
I laughed and turned my attention back to the road. Blair quizzed Simon on how the news about his stay in Sweetwater had been discussed within the PD, and they came up with a plan to start leaking information to each of the departments two at a time, starting this afternoon. I listened in to their conversation and then asked Blair to let me talk to Simon.
Blair handed the phone back to me. Simon explained that if there weren’t any bites on his line in a two-day period, he’d drop the hook in another pool.
“So, sir, if I’ve got this straight, you’re going to have a two-man team and cameras set up at each place that each department was told was Blair’s safe house. You’re hoping that if a hit man shows up at, say, a place on Western Avenue, then you know the leak came from Vice, because only they were told that particular address.”
“That’s right. I’ll only set up two departments at a time; I can pass along a different address to each department by coming in on their daily briefing and pretending that since I have a manpower shortage I might need to borrow some of their people.” He snorted. “Normally, I could expect the different department heads to deny my request, but I thought I’d pitch it as a punishment detail for the detectives or uniforms who are currently on their shit list. This bait should be too good to pass up by the person responsible for setting hired guns on Blair’s trail.”
We discussed various locations for the list of fake safe houses and then ended the call. “Chief, you sure got Simon all stirred up,” I said as I put the phone back in my pocket.
“God, I didn’t mean to upset him. Were you listening when he told me he didn’t have so many friends that he could afford to have one drop off the face of the planet?” Blair looked at me with worry so plain on his face and in his eyes that I stopped trying to tease him.
“Not about you leaving. I meant you got him all stirred up about wanting to go fishing. He kept using fishing terms like bait and hook. But he did miss you, Blair. He kept checking with me to see if you’d called. I didn’t tell him why you’d left, just that you’d had a better offer out of town. He didn’t really buy it -- knew, I guess, from the way I acted that we’d had problems – and told me I should try to find you and make it right between us. But, you know – fishing does sound good.”
Blair shot a look at me, but this time he’d masked whatever he was thinking. “Would you like to go fishing, Chief, the three of us?”
“Let me think about it. It’s hard to imagine making plans like that… And anyway, I need to get a job.” Blair slid his glance out the window and went back to his stewing over whatever the hell he was trying to decide about, and I hit the gas and passed another idiot driver who couldn’t read the speed limit.
Blair’s fever decided to make its reappearance shortly before we got through Minneapolis, and he fell back into a light doze. He was actually asleep when I pulled up next to our new cabin and moved our stuff inside. Tonight’s stop was a pretty little place about thirty minutes from Interstate 94. Findley had, as usual, gotten us the most isolated cabin in the bunch, very close to the edge of one of the Horseshoe Lakes.
“Babe, wake up.” I could get away with calling him ‘babe’ if he was mostly asleep. Blair batted away my hand and tried to snuggle back into my jacket, which had been pressed into service as a pillow when I unloaded the truck. I persevered, and eventually Blair found himself in bed, dosed and watered, and he fell asleep almost immediately again. He really didn’t have any stamina at all.
Some time later while leaning on the porch rail and enjoying looking out at this beautiful part of the country, I wished we really were on vacation and could spend some time fishing in this lake. I remembered other fishing trips we had taken together and how much I’d enjoyed teaching Blair to fly fish. He’d been so damn cute and eager to learn. If we went fishing with Simon, I hoped that for a change no crooks would interrupt us to spoil the trip. I was debating the merits of camping versus renting a cabin when Sleepyhead stumbled out of the door. I pulled him into a hug and snugged him up in front of me, rearranging the blanket he’d dragged out with him to cover him better. It was cold; I wasn’t going to let Blair stay out here long.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I felt his forehead, and while his fever had come down, it was still noticeable. 101.5, I would say.
Blair didn’t bother answering, just plastered himself closer to me. I kissed him on the top of his head and said, “I was just thinking about that possible fishing trip with Simon. Simon and me, we haven’t gone fishing together since you left; I guess I was being too much of an asshole for Simon to subject himself to me while on vacation. But my dad and I went a couple of times. I probably wasn’t much fun for him either, but he put up with me. Dad prefers cabins to camping, though. I haven’t been camping with anybody or by myself for a long time. What would you like to do, camp or rent a cabin?”
Blair shrugged. He cleared his throat and said, “Jim, I have something I want to tell you.”
So, whatever he’d been stewing about was ready to dish up. “Okay, Chief. I know you’ve had your thinking cap on all day, and I’m ready to listen to you. But let’s go back inside. You’re sick, in case you’ve forgotten about that, and it’s really too chilly out here for you.”
I stepped back from him and took him by the shoulders to point him in the direction of the door. “Let’s go get comfortable, and I’ll make you some of that tea for your throat.”
Blair sat with me on the couch, ignoring the steaming cup of tea I’d made him and biting his lip. Whatever it was he needed to tell me, he was nervous about it. I waited. When you interrogate people for a living you learn the value of silence in pushing a person to fill in the void. Not that I was going to pressure him -- this was his idea, after all – but the principle was the same.
Blair heaved himself off the couch and faced me. I stayed put. There was a power dynamic at play, with him now taller than me, and if it would give him more confidence to start this ball rolling, then he could look down at me.
“Jim, you forgave your dad for not being Mr. Cleaver, right? The two of you are closer now than when you were a kid; you visit him a lot and you do things together, go fishing -- Steven, too? So despite some mistakes in the past, you were able to get through it and love them for who they are to you, your father and your brother.”
This I did not expect. I had no clue why Blair was bringing up my family. But I kept my questions to myself. He was talking now and this, no doubt, was only the tip of the iceberg. I watched Blair’s hands fly through the air as he continued talking about making allowances for loved ones.
“Um… so, you know, just keep that in mind, okay? We might get annoyed with family and exasperated by the incredibly stupid stunts they pull, but we still love them.”
He was rocking back and forth on his feet, as he worried his lip again.
“Naomi… she’s so beautiful. And she is so great at making things fun, when you’re hanging out with her, that it’s really easy to become entranced with her. So many guys have fallen like a ton of bricks for her, and she’s kind of used to just doing things the way she wants to and charming her way out of sticky situations, and okay -- maybe I do that too, at times. The schmoozing and charming thing, I probably learned while I was still a rug-rat, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or anything, but I hope I’ve learned that doing the old razzle-dazzle isn’t the best way to handle things sometimes. Sometimes you’ve got to do a little thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong and not what’s expedient, but I’m really not sure Naomi is capable of learning that; I don’t care how many trips she’s taken for enlightenment and how much time she’s spent on meditation.”
Blair shot me a look, and I nodded my head at him. ‘Family members who screw up, but we love them anyway’ seemed to be the theme here. I wondered what Naomi had done. She’s a sexy, sensual lady, but she can resemble a hurricane with the chaos she strews around her.
“And I love my mom. My mother is… my mother. And I know I’m kind of keeping my distance from her right now, but sometimes I have to have strong boundaries – castle wall kind of structures -- drawn with her or she barges in to try and take control of my life like I’m a five year old, which is really, God, so ironic, since when I was five she didn’t pay attention to what was going on around us at all. And that’s not what I want to tell you about. But Naomi needs people looking out for her, and I’ve done that about as far back as I can remember, trying to protect her from having to worry about stuff and especially about me. She just doesn’t think things through very well before she goes and does them, and she trusts the people she just recently met too much when she shouldn’t. I don’t know how many times I told some guy who was hanging around Mom that I was watching him to see that he didn’t hurt her. Or I did once I was older. Hell, I’m still doing it – remember Charlie Springer?” He shook his head in exasperation, but then bit again at his lip with his teeth. “But the point is -- Naomi does things and she doesn’t mean to cause problems, but she could be in some serious trouble here.”
Blair went silent then, and I did some ‘processing’ myself while watching him perform a magnetic to and fro kind of dance by advancing two steps towards me and then reversing three steps backwards. He’d said she could be in trouble. That meant now.
“Blair…” I said it supportively. I didn’t want to spook him into clamming up, but he looked like he needed a nudge to keep going.
“And maybe there’s some Karma at work, too, because I did forge her name on the Cub Scout permission form, which I shouldn’t have done even if I really wanted to be a Cub Scout like my friend Joey Pemberton and go camping and learn knots and make a race car like he did with his dad. Mom thought they were the next wave of jack-booted thugs, and when she found out where I was, she stormed into the school cafeteria and gave the leaders and the Scouts a lecture about quasi-military indoctrination and made me quit. So you see, Jim, when she marched into Simon’s office to make him cut me loose… Well, she does stuff like that.”
Blair came closer and grabbed his cup of tea and gulped it for a moment. I suspected it was a delaying tactic on his part. And I could smell the anxiety on him.
He’d babbled, but what had he really been saying? Good thing he taught me how to bring back up memories by using my senses. I would need to analyze carefully what he’d let slip.
I reached up to him and took him by the arm with one hand and divested him of his tea with the other.
“Blair, I know this is hard. Sit down with me, please. I want you to feel me anchoring you, like you’ve been my anchor so many times when I’ve been lost in my senses.” And I pulled him down next to me and pushed him sideways a little bit so I could put both of my arms around him. I was aware of the tenseness in his body and I tightened my hold so he could feel me there, setting some boundaries of my own.
“The Karma thing…,” I prompted him. Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He repeated the breathing pattern, trying to calm himself down.
I kissed the side of his face, and waited. All those years of stakeouts were paying off. Apparently I’d learned I could be patient, if I needed to be. Finally, he gave a big sigh.
“The Karma part is that I forged her name, man. And she forged mine.” He shook his head. “I always wondered why everybody was so sure that Sid had overstepped his legal obligations when he made parts of the diss public. The guy was one of his company’s top execs. He wouldn’t have made a boneheaded decision like that, setting himself up for being sued. And he didn’t. When I told him on the phone that I didn’t want him to publish, he contacted Naomi right away. Naomi told him she’d get me to change my mind, and he faxed her the permission forms. She forged my name and sent them back.” He stopped and took another couple of deep breaths.
“I can’t sue Berkshire Publishing and Sid Graham for releasing the diss, because they would drag Naomi into it. Sid made it very clear to me that they would have no qualms about doing that. They acted in good faith and stopped when I contacted them again and emphatically told them I had not signed anything of theirs at all. Naomi admitted what she’d done when I cornered her. She told me she’d signed my name because she knew I would come to my senses; she wanted the world to see how brilliant I was, and she was sorry I couldn’t see it that way. “
Blair started breathing faster. “Jim, she could be liable for criminal charges, not to mention being left holding the bag if you or I sued the company. She’s my mom. I love her and I have to protect her. I know it made you mad and upset with me, when I wouldn’t just sue the pants off of Sid; I… I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid for my mom. So I kept it secret – what she had done.”
I could feel him trembling against me. He made to push away from me, but I wasn’t letting him go anywhere. I made a sh-sh sound at him and kept my arms right where they were.
“All right, Chief. Calm down. Naomi put you in a bind again, didn’t she? I’m glad you told me, and I’m not mad, okay? Your mother is… something else. But I’m not going to sue and take you and her down. Trust me. I love you, Blair, and I meant it about following relationship rules. Remember? ‘Your problems are my problems,’ and that includes Naomi. But I hardly think you deserved all that heartache as Karmic payback just because you forged her name to join the Cub Scouts. You were, what -- seven or eight years old? Naomi is an adult; it was incredibly arrogant of her to override your decision about the diss. Was she ever sorry she did it?”
Blair relaxed against me, and I felt hopeful because he’d made this step. This was huge, for him. I’d been after him to sue or to at least tell me why he wouldn’t sue since shortly after the whole mess had happened.
“She was sorry that there were problems between you and me, but she wasn’t sorry she’d signed my name. She still thinks I should let Sid publish my diss, and she bugs me about it every time I call her. She just doesn’t understand how she trampled over your right to privacy. She did it with a good heart, don’t you know, and thinks I’m being stubborn and unreasonable. A mother does what’s best for her child, even if the child in question is pushing thirty. It just burns me up sometimes, the way she acts – she let me be an adult when I really was a kid and too young to make the decisions I did, and now when I am an adult, at times she wants to treat me like I’m a child. When she decides to focus her attention on me, that is.”
He breathed heavily in exasperation. “Naomi is like the light in a lighthouse; it’s intense while it’s on you and then it swings away and is intense somewhere else until it swings your direction again. I love her, but man, when she does shit like that I can be so mad at her, and I don’t want to feel that way about my mom. And Christ, I’m just venting now, there really hasn’t been anybody I could really talk to about my mom before – this is kind of nice.”
He swiveled so he could look up at me. “Jim?”
“Are you really okay with me telling you about her?”
“I’m more than okay; I’m happy that you trusted me, Blair. Protecting your mom, I can understand that. If you’d told me back in Cascade, I would have let it drop. Since I didn’t know why you refused to stand up for yourself, it bothered me that you wouldn’t get what was owed to you, and most of all because you wouldn’t share your reason with me. But I have to wonder. Do you think Sid guessed your mom forged your name, before you called him back and straightened him out?”
Blair sighed and nodded his head. “I suspect it was awfully convenient for him to have my name on his document, and he didn’t ask too many questions about it. He didn’t try and call me to confirm it, that’s for sure. So maybe he figured Naomi had signed my name for me, but it suited his purposes -- so he went with it.”
I nuzzled his hair, and since he no longer was a flight risk I switched from holding him securely to running my hands up and down his arms. He was kind of drooping, now that the adrenaline from his anxiety was disappearing.
“Anything else you want to tell me? Any confessions about lusting after my best flannel shirt, which don’t think I didn’t notice whose closet it kept ending up in, Sandburg.”
“I gave it back, when I left.” Blair sounded wistful. It had been a chamois shirt from L.L. Bean and just the color of his eyes. I’d let him get away with ‘borrowing’ it because he looked good in it. And I’d liked looking at him.
“You can have it back, as a welcome home present, when you move back into the loft.”
Ah, shit. Blair had tensed right back up.
“It’s an open-ended offer, Sandburg. No expiration date, no deadline. I love you; I want to be your lover again. Shit, I’d marry you, if we could do that. But I’m willing to wait for you to get to that point without beating you over the head about it. I’m just laying my cards on the table for you to read.”
“What if I just want to be friends?” Blair smelled sad now, the icing on the cake, atop the other scents of anxiety and fear.
“It would kill me to see you be with somebody else, but I’d learn to live with it. If we can’t have what we had before, I’ll take whatever part of yourself that you can share with me, Blair.” And now I could smell a trail of sadness rising from my own body.
“I’m not asking for you to choose, Blair. We’ve still got things to, uh, talk about and work out. And a case to solve. We’ve got time to figure out where we’re going with the you-and-me stuff afterwards.”
Blair became quiet, and I thought about his mother. Beautiful, thoughtless Naomi. She’d given Blair the reddish highlights in his hair and his cheekbone structure. She’d taught him Yoga and meditation and influenced how he felt about the environment and war. He had her way of looking at the world as something to be explored and treasured. And she’d also taught him how to slide by with people -- to use his charm to get what he wanted. And that relationships were temporary and to end them when things started getting difficult. He’d changed, though, matured in ways far beyond Naomi’s level of love ‘em and leave ‘em.
Blair had a solid foundation of principles that Naomi’d never had. You wouldn’t have ever found her standing at a podium sacrificing what she’d spent half her life attaining, out of love for another human being. She’d have twisted herself all around, telling herself why that wasn’t the right thing to do. And then she’d have packed her bags and left, leaving bewilderment behind her.
I’d had my ups and downs with my own parents.
My mother – she’d walked out on Stevie and me. As an adult, I understood very well about divorce. But when Carolyn and I couldn’t make a go of our marriage any longer, we’d ended it fairly amiably. Dad and my mother, though -- it had been bitter between them. Most of the time, I’d wished I couldn’t hear the things they said to each other.
I thought it unforgivable, however, that she’d cut off contact with my brother and me. At least Sandburg’s mother had kept a relationship with him over the years, even if he had spent more time as a kid living with other people, both with and without Naomi, than was probably good for a child to experience. He’d never had much stability, never really had a man who’d acted as a father to him. He’d compensated, though, with finding men who’d acted as mentors to him when he got older.
I’d had a father all throughout my childhood.
My father had been harsh as a parent when Stevie and I were young. He valued competition and set his sons against each other in some convoluted Darwinian theory of raising tough sons. It had worked, too. I’d become so emotionally hard that I left and lived my life for decades without talking to him.
But Dad had changed over the years, and I was glad that we now had a good father and son relationship. Thanks mostly to Blair, who had encouraged me to keep in contact with my father after Dad had nearly been killed by that whacko who used to be on my football team. Dad had kept tabs on me while we were estranged, and it had touched me to look through the scrapbooks he’d kept of my life.
He’d gone way out of his way to see me after Sandburg left – of course, I hadn’t told him the details – and he’d gotten me to spend a lot more time with him. I caught on that the problems with cabinet doors or electric switches he called about were just excuses to see me, and after a while, it just became a weekly habit to have dinner with him and sometimes Sally. And I went because I was lonely after Blair left me. No, after I drove Blair to leave.
And Dad would throw out invitations to car shows and ask me to go fishing with him. Making up for when he’d been too busy to spend time with me as a kid. So, I understood about loving your parent even if they’d made mistakes in the past.
I wondered, however, if Naomi had learned anything from the mistakes she’d made, like my dad had learned from his.
I sighed and contemplated again the enormous step Blair had taken today. He’d trusted me to keep his mother safe; from the sound of it, it’d been a lifelong habit of his to protect her. Protecting her – she should have been protecting him. But he loved her, and I kind of considered her my mother-in-law. I snorted a bit to myself; I bet Naomi never considered herself as mother-in-law material.
Blair wiggled against me a little bit, getting comfortable. He was getting drowsy again and I really should get up and fix us something to eat, but I loved feeling the sleepy, pliant weight of him too much to give it up right now. Yeah, I was mainlining another hit of Sandburg. And these memories would have to sustain me, if he decided he couldn’t live with me. So hell, I’d be greedy and store up the feel of him resting against me and turning his cheek into my chest, the silky feel of his hair against my chin, and the way his breathing was slowing down. For the moment, he smelled contented again, and I prayed right then to every god Sandburg had ever mentioned that I could have a lifetime of him cuddling up against me.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Nine